The touchline celebration from Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal when Ali Williams crossed in the corner for the try that finally put Wasps out of contention here on Sunday said it all about the brave second-half fightback staged by the Premiership side.
Nobody gave David Young’s side any chance of getting close to the reigning European Cup holders and, after an appalling first-half, they looked to be dead and buried. Toulon scored a try within five minutes, exerted enough pressure to force Rob Miller to see yellow and kicked five penalties to build a 22-6 lead.
Little Freddie Michalak, sometimes the darling of French rugby and oft times the villain, was at his imperious best, especially with the boot, to compound Wasps’ problems and he ended the game with 22 points after kicking six penalties and a conversion. That earned him the man of the match accolade, but it could so easily have gone to either Joe Simpson or Elliot Daly.
The two young Englishmen brought their side racing back into contention after the break with their pace and artistry, helping to create two tries for the right wing Will Helu that almost turned the game on its head.
“I thought we gave them too much respect in the first half and gave away too many penalties. That allowed them to build a big lead,” said Wasps director of rugby Young.
“We didn’t trust our defence or attack, to be honest. We gave away silly penalties when we didn’t need it, and we had something like seven turnovers. But sometimes we have got to stop and pinch ourselves and remember that two seasons ago we were fighting relegation. This season we’ve been mixing it with the best teams in Europe in the Champions Cup.
“Having had a taste of it, we want more and this will be a big learning block for us moving forward. Now we’ve got to make sure we get into the top six in the Premiership so we can have another crack at this tournament next season.”
Once the Wasps backline got moving in the second half, with Simpson switching to the centre, the game changed. The visitors managed to outscore Toulon 2-1 in tries, and 12-10 on points, in the second period and gave themselves a chance of reaching their first European Cup semi-final since 2007.
There were still eight minutes to play when Helu crossed for his second try and anything seemed possible with a mere score between the two teams. But Toulon, as befits the champions they have become, kept their composure and conjured up a corner try for Williams to make the game safe with four minutes to go.
Not many teams contain Toulon to a mere two tries in a match, especially not at home, and when they look back at the tapes the Wasps players will be punching, rather than pinching, themselves when they see what might have been.
It left captain James Haskell perplexed and proud in equal measure. As he pointed out afterwards, you don’t win medals for taking part in tournaments, merely by winning them.
“We wanted to put them under more pressure in the second half and we could have walked in a couple more tries in the end if we’d been more accurate,” Haskell said.
“We will be hard on ourselves after this, but we will keep our heads up. We pushed them as hard as we could and if we’d been a bit more ruthless we would have done the job.”
Toulon: Tries M Bastareuad, A Williams; Conversions F Michalak 2; Penalties F Michalak 6. Wasps: Tries W Helu 2; Conversion A Goode; Penalties A Lozowski 2.
Toulon D Armitage; D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz (M Giteau, 54), J Tuisova; F Michalak, S Tillous-Borde (M Claassens, 68); A Menini (X Chiocci, 65), G Guirado (J-C Orioli, 66), C Hayman (captain), B Botha (J Suta, 69), A Williams, M Gorgodze (J Fernandez Lobbe, 65), S Armitage, C Masoe
Wasps R Miller; W Helu, E Daly, A Masi (C Davies, 66), T Varndell (A Leiua, 57); A Lozowski (A Goode, 44), J Simpson; M Mullan (S McIntyre, 69), E Shervington (C Festuccia, 51), L Cittadini (J Cooper-Woolley, 51), B Davies (J Gaskell, 65), K Myall, A Johnson, J Haskell (captain), G Thompson (T Young, 69)
Referee G Clancy (IRFU).Reuse content